Transportation funding, health care, family and medical leave and education top the priorities for the business community and members of both chambers of the General Assembly going into the 2020 legislative session. How they get to those solutions is where there may be disagreement – and opportunity to compromise – leaders told nearly 500 guests at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Business Legislative Preview this morning.
“We agree on almost everything. What we disagree on is how we accomplish some of these goals. We share the objective to lower health care costs for our state … our transportation system needs investment … and we agree we care deeply about our teammates and employees,” said Chamber President and CEO Kelly Brough.
Hosted in partnership with the Colorado Competitive Council and the Denver Business Journal, and presented by Fidelity Investments, the Business Legislative Preview gives business and community leaders the opportunity to hear the business policy agenda of both parties in advance of the legislative session, which kicks off Wednesday. Capitol reporter Ed Sealover moderated the conversation with leaders of both parties, who took the stage together: Speaker of the House KC Becker (D-Boulder), Assistant Senate Minority Leader John Cooke (R-Greeley), Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock).
Family and Medical Leave
Democratic leaders noted that family and medical leave will again be a priority this session. In 2019, legislators agreed to study the proposal to create a state-mandated program that would be funded by a $1 billion to $2 billion payroll tax.
Brough was clear on the business community’s stance: “We want a market-based solution.” She added that flexibility for Colorado’s nonprofits and smallest businesses and providing an opt-out for employers already offering a leave program are also critical issues for the business community.
“I think the answer is let’s incentivize businesses that want to do this,” Neville said.
Becker said while she wants to see a modified bill creating a leave program return in 2020, “I want to see something that is phased in in a sustainable way.”
Stemming Health Care Costs
Legislators discussed the public health insurance option proposed by the state in late 2019. The Chamber has shared concerns that rate-setting and forcing providers to enter new markets will only increase inefficiencies and costs.
Cooke said he viewed the proposal as “a cost shift and price controls.”
Brough added that “shifting cost is not the same as driving costs down.”
Following the failure of Proposition CC, which would have allowed the state to retain revenue in excess of the TABOR cap (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) to fund transportation and education, legislators still agreed there are unmet needs – but offered differing views on how to address deteriorating roads and congestion.
Potential solutions suggested by the four legislators range from increasing the gas tax to adding fees for electric vehicles. Cooke and Becker advocated for solutions that would create new revenue. But what is critical for a solution, Garcia said, is compromise.
“The reality is we have to approach it from a viewpoint that we have to have these conversations,” he said. “We should all be serving as ambassadors.”
And, there is mounting urgency to act as drivers in the metro area lose 52 hours each year and rural roads now rank the second worst in the country. “We’re falling behind,” Brough said. “It’s affecting safety and our quality of life.”
Maintaining the Labor Peace Act
Since 1943, Colorado has maintained a balance when it comes to labor regulations, between a right-to-work and a union-shop state.
That balance is one that Cooke, who supports right-to-work, said he will not upset after hearing from business leaders, who noted the importance of giving employees a voice but shared concern that any changes to the act could actually stifle those voices.
“It is a compromise with a fragile balance,” Brough said. “We would ask all our legislators to please say no to any changes to the Labor Peace Act.”
Legislators all agreed on the importance of graduating more students from high school and preparing them for their next steps.
“I think the foundation of any successful state is a strong public school and higher ed system,” Becker said.
From partnering with business on community college curriculum to creating more programs that introduce students to career paths that don’t require a college degree, a focus should be on personalization, Neville said.
Creating an Economy that Works for All
Legislators and business leaders alike acknowledged that even with the top-performing economy in the country, not everyone is accessing those opportunities. The Chamber is among those convening stakeholders for an initiative called Prosper CO to understand those challenges and how we can find solutions together. Learn more about this work at prosperco.org.
Policy plays a pivotal role in our economic success.
“We can’t maintain that position if we aren’t thoughtful about policy,” Brough said.
Brough echoed calls for collaborating during the session and focusing on the core issues that drive the state’s success.
“What we know is we get further when we work together,” Brough said. “This session requires that we should really focus on the work we currently have before us – the mission of our state. Those are things like transportation, education and health care.”
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